As the calendar turns, the hockey world’s focus turns to the next big date in the late February trade deadline. Craig Custance at The Athletic had an article on “NHL Trade Big Board: 20 players who could move before the deadline” with only one mention about the Penguins, in the form of Carolina winger Micheal Ferland.
Carolina is already getting calls on Ferland, an unrestricted free agent who is due a big raise after this season. The Hurricanes like Ferland but not at the expected price he is likely to cost in his next deal. He’s got size, playoff experience and a small cap number. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Penguins, always aggressive to improve their team under GM Jim Rutherford, were interested.
It seems like the Pens biggest spot of uncertainty remains the center spot and if Derick Brassard can give them enough of what they want and need out of that position. But if Brassard can’t, the logistics of how to slither around his contract to deal away and then snake through finding a replacement would be difficult to project, and probably tougher still for Rutherford to pull off. For better or worse, the Pens might be tied to Brassard and hoping he can find some playoff magic.
So if Pittsburgh is looking for an upgrade at the deadline, wing does make sense. On defense they’ll very happily welcome Justin Schultz back sometime after the all-star break and that may go a very long way to stabilizing that unit. We all know Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang are the horses pulling the wagon, but adding Schultz to Olli Maatta on the second pair could suddenly give a solid second pair for the Evgeni Malkin line to work largely with during the course of games. Then depth in the form of Marcus Pettersson - who has done nothing but impress in his stint- plus vets in Jamie Oleksiak and Jack Johnson.
Pittsburgh is pretty good on wing — with the caveat that no one gets hurt. We’ve already seen Patric Hornqvist miss time this year, and his style means he gets banged up from time to time. Left wing depth in general isn’t great with Dominik Simon, Tanner Pearson and Zach Aston-Reese working behind Jake Guentzel. That’s a good group, but a championship contender? Perhaps not.
Ferland would be a very interesting candidate to add. His resume is fairly impressive:
Ferland’s also 6’2, 210 and his 101 hits are among the best in the league (the 3.0 hits per game rank 10th among NHL forwards, min 26 games). He’ll fly around and do some dirty work.
Ferland’s 33 goals since the start of the 2017-18 season rank him top-100 league-wide in forward scorers as well, demonstrating some hands and ability to get to the net. That he’s been able to score (or be on pace for) 15-20 goals per season on both Calgary and Carolina suggest he can produce on different teams, in different styles and systems, which also makes for a good trade candidate.
In some ways, Ferland reminds of a Chris Kunitz-type player. While his assist numbers show Ferland doesn’t have Kunitz’s very underrated vision and in-zone passing ability, he is going to do some of the intangible “little things” that might not show up in a box score but mean the world as a supporting player. Like when he wins a wall-battle and holds an opponent up long enough for a star to steal the puck back. Or win a race, give a hit on the forecheck or help puck support in that type of manner. Players like Kunitz and Ferland can be very valuable as passengers or support or whatever you want to call them but when we’re talking about 20+ goal type of hands, that’s also nothing to scoff at.
As Custance mentioned, at a $1.75 million cap hit the dollars make sense for Ferland to be a very desirable rental target. At 26 years old, his age is a positive too. He also has experience playing left wing and right wing. In my mind, though Bryan Rust certainly shows well at times, he’s probably not the all-time Sidney Crosby right winger. Similarly is Simon the answer for Evgeni Malkin’s left flank? Adding a player like Ferland gives coach Mike Sullivan more options to play around with.
It remains to be seen how interested the Hurricanes will be in selling though. Their owner is on record pushing to win and may not be inclined to sell or be perceived as “quitting on the season” by trading a NHL-caliber impending free agent away for futures. And, though Custance was just linking logical partners, there’s no certainty Pittsburgh would be interested in possibly winning a bidding war for a player who may just be a rich man’s Aston-Reese, when ZAR himself is playing very fine hockey these days.
But, rumor season is the most fun of all the seasons, and there’s definitely a good fit at the surface level here. As always the winds of reports and whispers and rumors will only intensify as the deadline approaches.